Enter the red Honda Civic; tiny, compact, and the first of its kind in our neck of the woods. It never looked as happy to me as the Bug did. At that age, cars still had faces like they did in colouring books. The headlights were the eyes and the bumper acted as a kind of mouth. To my creative children’s mind at the time, the chrome bumper of the Bug was like a giant mouth full of sparkling white teeth while the Civic just looked content. Not too happy, not too sad. It just was.
At this particular point in our family’s history, there was still only my sister Cathy and I for backseat bunkers. Despite the lack of enthusiasm in the Civic’s facial expression, that little car took us everywhere we needed to go. The longest and most memorable road trip of my single digit years took place in this two-doored stallion. One summer we drove it all the way to Ottawa, a journey of biblical proportions to a kid who up until that point thought a two hour drive felt like an eternity. Man, was I in for a surprise.
In a world before multi-laned super highways, the distance from where we lived in Geary, New Brunswick to my aunt’s front door in suburban Ottawa involved probably something close to twenty hours on the road. And while there are many fond memories associated with my inaugural long distance road trip, there were also two scaring experiences from that journey that I have never been able to shake from my memory. The first of which involved a large menacing firefighter’s helmet, the kind worn when fighting extreme oil fires or other disasters where you not only need your head protected but your entire upper torso. Its tinted window-mask and silvery asbestos outer protective layer gave it a certain not-of-this-world quality, the kind that trigger an unending list of fear possibilities in the mind of a five year old boy from the sticks. Looking back now, that helmet could easily have been the focus of an X-Files episode.
The whole point of the trip was to visit my aunt and uncle and see a bit of the country at the same time. They were nice enough to convert a storage room in their home into a make-shift spare bedroom complete with comfy beds, warm blankets, and a terrifying mask that seemed to stare directly at me whenever I was in the room. Why they left it there I’ll never know. Even with the lights off I could still see it watching me, waiting for me to drift off into dreamland before making its move. I can’t recall exactly how long I managed to hold out, or if I even held out at all. What I do remember is that it wasn’t long before some heroic family member was forced to step forward and relocate this fear-generating, nightmare-provoking helmet of hatred out into the hallway for the night. Yes, I was a bit of a chicken shit when I was a kid.
The second event and quite possibly the most traumatic event of my early years involved the loss of my blanky. That soft, cuddly, bolt of woven fabric with its silk trim that at the time, seemed to be the softest material known to man, or boy in this case.
On route to Ottawa, we stayed the night in a one of those classic roadside motels. You know the kind. Those long, narrow structures bookended by a gas station on one end and a restaurant on the other. The following morning was like any other. We ate breakfast and continued on our journey. It wasn’t long after we hit the road that extreme panic set in. My blanket, the one I’ve kept close for as long as I’d been building memories was nowhere to be found and according to Mom and Dad, turning the car around wasn’t an option despite all the tears I could muster.
The impact of this of this experience can never truly be documented using the written word. In order to really get my point across to you and give you a true sense of the pain and catastrophic turmoil my five year old self experienced as a result of this parting of such good friends, I feel my point would be better expressed in person, crying loudly through a megaphone, naked, deranged, and exulting my full-blown mental anguish.
Looking back, I may have been the victim of some grand parental scheme to separate a child from his material dependency. Maybe it was one small step in preparing me for the real world. In adult terms, I’d liken the whole experience to something along the lines of a break-up. A serious one. Like the kind where you have to explain that although you’ve had lots of good times and the memories will forever live on in your good books, if things were to continue, the downward spiral cleverly masked behind all the parities and social outings would eventually take its toll and finish you both off for good.
As I’ve grown up and have now passed the age my parents were when this clever deceit took place, I’m now convinced the loss of my cherished blanky was part of the plan from the get-go.
I don’t really remember what ever came of our little red Civic. I’m sure we drove it until it was ready to pass on through the rusty gates and meet with its automotive predecessors where it would no doubt park happily and stare down at those unfortunates still struggling with the cold weather, playing the role of both transport and escape pod.